Mitterrand guilty in arms scandal

French court convicts son of ex-president and former minister over arms sales

A former French interior minister and the son of the late president François Mitterrand were yesterday convicted of taking payments for the illegal sale of arms to Angola during the country's civil war in the 1990s.

The former minister, Charles Pasqua, an ally and later enemy of Jacques Chirac, was given a 12-month jail sentence for his part in smoothing the sale of an extensive arsenal of arms to Luanda from countries in the former Soviet bloc. Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the late president's son and special African envoy, was fined €375,000 (£339,000) and handed a two-year suspended sentence.

The two alleged ringleaders in the so-called "Angolagate" affair – the Moscow-based Israeli billionaire Arkady Gaydamak and French businessman Pierre Falcone – were both given six-year jail sentences.

Gaydamak was absent during the trial, and an international warrant will be issued for his arrest.

The five-month trial concluded in March, and was followed by an unusually long period of deliberation before the convictions and sentencing. Falcone had enjoyed partial diplomatic immunity as Angola's representative to Unesco, but the court ruled that this did not cover this conviction. He was jailed after yesterday's judgment.

The convictions bring to an end the first stage of the murky and enigmatic saga, which has poisoned relations between Paris and Luanda for more than five years and provoked allegations of clandestine French state intervention in the Angolan civil war.

Most of the convicted men are expected to appeal, prolonging the affair for several more years.

Gaydamak and Falcone, do not deny the basic facts. However, their lawyers insisted during the marathon and complex trial that their activities between 1993 and 1998 were of no concern to the French legal system. They had bought arms in eastern Europe – including 420 tanks, 150,000 shells, 12 helicopters and six warships – and delivered them to Angola.

But they argued that the arms, worth €790m, had never passed through France and were therefore not covered by a French government ban on arms sales to both sides in the conflict between the Angolan government and the Unita rebel movement.

However the court decided yesterday that the arms dealings had been, in reality, conducted by Mr Falcone's Paris-based company and were therefore illegal.

Pasqua, 82, who was twice interior minister, and for many years a close associate of both former president Chirac and President Nicolas Sarkozy, was found guilty of taking payments in return for using his political influence to smooth the deals.

A former senior French state official and undercover agent, Jean-Charles Marchiani, was given a 15-month sentence for the same offence.

Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, known to African leaders as "Papa m'a dit" ("Daddy told me") when he was his father's special envoy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was also found guilty of "trafficking in influence", and was given the suspended sentence.

Several defendants were cleared, including Jacques Attali, a former aide to Mitterrand and former president of the European Development Bank in London.

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